When my father was the assistant conductor of the Honolulu Symphony in the early 1970’s, he used to tell us about the wacky stagehands at the Honolulu Opera Company. They shared a stage with the orchestra and it seemed they would always create t-shirts when a new production was in the works.
Thus, based on the opera at hand, they carried out their duties in shirts emblazoned with slogan like “To Hell with Faust” or “Get Ahead with Salome.” Who doesn’t like a bit of behind-the-scenes operatic humor?
I thought about this — especially Strauss’ Salome — as I was preparing to preach on this Sunday’s gospel passage. You see it’s Mark 6:14-29, the precise passage upon which the opera is based; the story of John the Baptist’s beheading.
It’s a violent, gruesome tale of sin, lust, guilt, rage, and revenge. In other words, perfect for an opera but you’ll likely never see a cute children’s pageant based on it. Unless it's the pageant director's last Sunday -- as an Episcopalian, a Christian, or even a human being.
As you delve into the story it’s hard not to seek some comic relief — or at least it’s hard forme. So I came up with a few suggestions to embrace the day more fully. I mean it only comes around the lectionary once every three years so why not do it up right? Right??
2. Not usually into liturgical dance at your parish? Invite all the pre-teen girls to prance around provocatively wearing chiffon during the gospel procession. That wouldn't be creepy at all.
3. Refer to all the lectors as "talking heads."
5. While this year’s “celebration” takes place on July 12th, it’s a lot more memorable when it falls on July 14th aka Bastille Day. Why not decorate the narthex with mini, bedazzledguillotines? You know, just for some added fun.
6. For a choir anthem, substitute Palestrina with anything from the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
7. Serve the delicacy tete de veau (fancy french term for cow brain) at coffee hour.
8. Speaking of coffee hour, make sure to put everything out on silver platters. Yes, that includes the ubiquitous Munchkins at the kids’ table.
10. Instead of frightening the poor Sunday School children by telling them about Herodias and John the Baptist, scare the bejesus out of them by reading Washington Irving's Headless Horseman.
If you follow these 10 simple steps, you too can make your John the Baptist Head on a Silver Platter Extravaganza the talk of the entire church!